Matthew Kresal never left...
With the announced reboot of the Bond franchise, and with Daniel Craig being cast in the role, nobody was sure that the new direction would be successful. Yet with the movies release in 2006 and with Craig having proved himself in the role of Bond, anticipation was high for the next installment. Unfortunately Quantum of Solace would prove unable to reach the bar set by its predecessor.
The problems seem to stem from the cast but, thankfully, not from Daniel Craig’s 007. Craig proves that the Bond he portrayed in Casino Royale could survive into another film. He alternates with seemingly little effort between the many action sequences and the (small amount) of dramatic sequences. He excels at both, proving he can hold his own against Judi Dench's M during a couple of confrontations between the two, as well as showing a charming side in his scenes with Gemma Arterton's Field. If there is anything that can be said about the film it is that its greatest fault is that Craig doesn't seem to have the chance to really act in the way he did in Casino Royale.
Moving on from Craig, the rest of the main cast is questionable. Playing the role of Camille is relative newcomer Olga Kurylenko. The problem with using a relative newcomer is the fact that Kurylenko doesn't have much acting experience and it shows. She lacks screen presence and chemistry with Craig or anyone else she happens to share the screen with at any given moment. Maybe she just needed a little more experience as Kurylenko was to prove far better when she co-starred alongside former Bond Pierce Brosnan in The November Man a few years later. Either way, it seems a shame because the role of Camille could have been much better with a better actress.
It has been said that a Bond film can be judged from the strength of its villain. If that is the case then Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene sums up Quantum of Solace: full of promise but disappointing in the end. Mathieu Amalric is a good actor, without a doubt, but the role of a Bond villain is not a role for him. Dominic Greene is amongst the series least threatening villains who, like Moonraker's Hugo Drax, try to be the "silent but menacing" type but only succeeds in being a self-parody. With his bulging eyes, he never looks menacing and utterly lacks chemistry with anyone he plays against. Even worse perhaps, the sole time that Greene gets into a fight with Bond it turns into one of the series unintentionally funny moments (indeed, my strongest memory of seeing the film in the cinema is of people laughing at it. I'll leave it at that).
The supporting cast thankfully is better, if underused. Perhaps the best example of this is Gemma Arterton as Strawberry Fields, who lights up the screen for such a brief period of time. I ask the filmmakers: what is the point of giving us a character who in her introduction alone is more interesting that that of your female lead, just to give her the least amount of screen time possible? Like Miranda Frost in Die Another Day, the "secondary" Bond girl should have been the primary one and vice versa. Much the same is true of the returning characters from Casino Royale: Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and White (the wonderfully menacing Jesper Christensen) who all deserved far more screen time then they eventually got. Back to the question: why introduce them if you're not going to use them much? Judi Dench makes a welcome return as M, who in her screen time builds on the Bond-M relationship established so well in Casino Royale, and thankfully there are plenty of those scenes. The real shame is that, outside of Dench's M, the supporting cast is underused in the extreme.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that it suffers from an action overload. While the action sequences of Casino Royale were stunning, the same cannot be said of those of Quantum of Solace. The filmmakers apparently took the Jason Bourne movies as a model because this film copies many of that series' action sequences right down to the foot chases and even a knife fight that is so reminiscent of the Borune series it could be called a rip-off. The film does have a few original action sequences, including the boat chase and one of the series better airborne action sequences, but it's a shame that the good action sequences are surrounded by a whole series of not so good ones. The filmmakers have made the same mistake they did with Tomorrow Never Dies: letting the action override the plot.
On that topic, the plot of the film remains elusive even now. The action has so much baring on the film that what exactly Greene and the mysterious Qunatum organization is up to is rarely apparent. Why it seeks to overthrow the Bolivian government and drag the CIA into events is likewise, except as an excuse to bring Wright's Leiter into the film. When what their motives are is finally revealed, it's underwhelming. While Bond movies like For Your Eyes Only or Licence To Kill played with less than world ending stakes, they were at least able to draw the viewer into events. It says something that Casino Royale, the longest Bond film to date, feels shorter and more engaging that its immediate sequel, which is shorter but feels considerably longer.
One of the few pluses of the film is David Arnold's score. Arnold adheres a little more closely to the traditional Bond score, allowing the James Bond Theme to slip in without it being intrusive. In fact Arnold, with one moment in particular, perfectly captures the feel of the earlier John Barry scores with the scene of Bond and Fields. Unfortunately the main title theme "Another Way To Die" is amongst the series worst with some odd lyrics and an odd performance that is further hindered by a title sequence that seems to dip into self-parody more than anything else. It’s a good score for an otherwise lacking film.
Perhaps it was raised expectations, but Quantum of Solace seems lacking in many areas. Its mixed main cast and action overload are its biggest problems and while it has many pluses (a good performance from Craig, an underused supporting cast and a good score) the minuses of the film are very hard to overcome. Quantum of Solace then, in the final analysis, is a film which is full of promise but disappointing in the end.
Financial issues with MGM meant that the next Bond movie would be a long time coming, with many wondering if the series had finally suffered a potentially long over-due death. It would be the franchise's half-century anniversary before we would learn the answer...
Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.